Fed up with formulaic ‘blockbusters’ and overhyped cinematic turkeys? Movie critic Anthony Quinn selects 100 timeless movie classics that never disappoint.
Click More Pictures above for Top 100
When I was a kid I made lists all the time – favourite footballers, favourite singles, favourite bands – though I don’t recall anyone being interested enough to ask me about them. They were oddly comforting, all the same, those lists, and I would check them regularly as a way of imposing order on chaos.
Later I would make lists of favourite films, but they tended to be inside my head rather than in a lined exercise book. I have a sense that most people who love cinema make such lists. What is it about film that brings out the taxonomist in us? Why is it important to have a running order of preference in our heads? It’s perhaps because our choice of top five comedies, or top 10 thrillers, or whatever, becomes a sort of defining characteristic. An allegiance to this or that movie says something – something quite profound, we hope – about our view of the world. Our favourite films are an invisible badge of taste, and to discover someone else who wears that badge might be, in a famous movie phrase, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Two questions I am most often asked as a film critic: (1) Do you use one of those pens that have a light on the tip? (2) What’s your favourite film? The answer to (1) is no, I just scrawl away in the dark. As for (2), it keeps changing. Before I started compiling this list of my top 100 movies I honestly didn’t know what would end up at number one. I enjoyed finding out.
Note that “my” top 100. This isn’t a list of the 100 Greatest Movies Ever Made, and never could be. Even if that list were collated from the leading film critics of the world, it would be no more definitive than any other. “Greatest” cannot be scientifically calculated. “Most Successful” obviously can be, but a list of the highest-grossing top 100 would be perfect tedium.
My credentials are only these: I saw an awful lot of movies as a youth in repertory cinemas (The Penultimate Picture Palace and the Phoenix in Oxford, later the Scala in King’s Cross and the Hampstead Everyman), and I’ve seen an awful lot of movies in the last 20-odd years as a film critic. That volume is important. It’s not that critics are smarter than the ticket-buying public, it’s just that they see about 30 films in a month while the average cinemagoer sees maybe three. The critics are drawing from a deeper pool of movie memories.
Nowadays, the films I used to watch are available through other media – DVDs, lovefilm.com, late-night movie channels – though I wonder how dedicated people still are to immersing themselves in the classics. There’s something different about the experience of seeking out an old movie in a flea-pit cinema, as opposed to kicking back in front of the TV. You form stronger attachments. All of which is a roundabout way of admitting the absolute partiality of my 100. You will notice a marked preference for American cinema; for movies of the 1940s (a Golden Age) and the 1970s (a Silver Age); for movies by Hitchcock, Hawks and Wilder; for movies starring Barbara Stanwyck.
You will also notice a perhaps surprising negligence of whole swathes of world cinema, of British movies fromthe last 25 years, of Disney, of documentary, of women directors. This last I found particularly troubling – but there just aren’t that many out there. Maybe in five or 10 years’ time my deep regard for Andrea Arnold’s Red Road and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker will bag them a slot.
And I’m sorry if your favourite doesn’t appear on the list. When I mentioned to friends that I was doing a Top 100 their eyes would light up and the interrogation would begin. “Have you got The Railway Children?” “Have you got Witness?” “Have you got i?” “Have you got Notting Hill?” I’m afraid the answer to the first three is no. To the fourth (from a younger person) the answer was along the lines of “Over my dead body”.
But the great thing about this was how passionately people engaged with the idea of a top 100. We love lists. At dinner with friends last Saturday the whole evening became consumed by what could, should – must – be on there. The debate was still going strong at 1am.